Unless Mom fibbed to me about what happened to the earlier ones, this was the first time I had actually killed a specter instead of just winging it. It was definitely the first time I ever saw one of these creatures so close. When they aren’t cloaked, they are frightful to see.
Most of the time, specters cloak themselves and are elusive as ghosts. That’s how they got their name. They hide so well, most people have never seen one, even though every human alive has had one fly close by at some point.
I’ve heard Mom describe them as ‘gargoyles’. I’ve seen pictures of real gargoyles, so I could see what she means. Specters don’t look like the ugly statues on European buildings called gargoyles, but they give you the same impression. As for what they look like, ‘ugly bird-bat-thing’ is the best description I’ve ever been able to come up with.
Rufus was running hard in our direction from his stake-out spot. He had his cellphone out and was calling in the attack. While I knelt over Sam to check her injuries, she was staring up at me. I could see her world transforming before her bewildered eyes.
Adults have warned me many times not to talk about scrying, or specters, or what my parents do for a living. I have accepted that as a rule, but I had never thought about what my world would look like to someone who stumbled into it from the outside. Sam’s mind was too busy struggling with what she had seen to even notice her own wounds.
In a small, shaking voice, she asked, “Tawny… what is that thing?”
I could hear Rufus talking rapid-fire into the phone as he hurried toward us, but he also had his glass out, scrying Sam as well. “.. no, it dead. Hit hard. The West girl maybe take nerve injury though. To wait for pickup here.”
Rufus’ words get garbled up sometimes. His English is a lot better when he takes time to think about it. He put away the phone as he knelt and lifted Sam to a sitting position to inspect her back. “It get you where, Miss?”
Sam was still too dazed to wonder why a wino had a cellphone, or was checking her like a paramedic, but she was beginning to feel a dull pain. At least that’s what I felt from her. Then it strengthened and gave me trouble looking at her.
She made a weak gesture at where the thing hit her, on the shoulder which had been closest to me. It would have struck her between the shoulder blades, on the spinal column, if I hadn’t shoved her. If I had reacted a half-second earlier the thing might have missed her.
Rufus glanced up at me. “To see a thing, Miss Tawny?”
He meant could I see anything inside Sam, any foreign object or unseen injury the specter might have left behind. I winced as I tried. “No, there’s… there’s too much pain, Rufus. I can’t look”
Rufus frowned and shook his head. “To use your glass.”
My parents have told me many times that I have a high-powered mind. They had to buy me an extra strong glass after I burned out two of Mom’s. Daddy is like that, too; he doesn’t dare use any glass but his own, but they say my mind song is even louder than his.
Which is why Rufus wanted my help. I should be able to see more things than him.
“I… I don’t know how to do that, Rufus,” I stammered, ashamed I hadn’t mastered it yet. Mom is always getting on me to train harder. Now I understood why I should have. “The only thing I’ve learned how to do with the glass is fight specters.”
Sam was now in horrific pain, but it wasn’t the bright searing pain you get from a new injury. It was the dull throbbing pain which should come with swollen injuries. I think Rufus was doing something to help block it. But I began to gray out from the power of it and I forced myself to begin a sustaining mantra for strength.
My best friend’s brain was starting to get into gear though. She looked at Rufus, then at me, then at the thing on the ground.
“What is going on?” she pleaded.
“Is attack you, it. Is to save you, Miss Tawny kill it. Lucky she for you.” He stopped, thought, then repeated with great care, “It is lucky she was with you. Tawny is very strong.”
She looked at me with eyes I had never seen before. I could feel wariness now, fear of an unknown, as if she was seeing me for the first time. “You… You killed it? How?”
“I focused the third thought-mantra of striking through my glass.” I pointed at the pendant. “That’s my best one. My family and Rufus and the others are the guardians of this town. This is what we do. We keep things like that away from regular people like you.”
Then, I remembered the most important detail of the moment and hung my head down in shame. “I’m sorry, Sam. I failed. You got hurt anyway.”
Confusion flared up in her. “You were… guarding me?”
“I guard the whole town, but yeah, that includes you. I don’t know why it attacked you in particular.”
A police car rolled around the corner down the road and came cruising up to us. Rufus was helping Sam to her feet as it stopped. I saw a woman in civilian clothes riding in the passenger seat. The officer who had been driving jumped out and ran around the car as soon as it stopped.
“Is she hurt?” he demanded as he pushed Rufus aside to take over with Sam. As Rufus gave the officer room, he shook his head, a little amused. The officer seemed to have disliked the sight of Rufus holding her. I thought that was odd, since I could tell he knew Rufus was a guardian, not some bum.
“Not too much blood, no bone broken,” Rufus replied, scratching his head and wearing a small grin as he watched the officer lead Sam to his car. “Bad nerve hit though. Hello, Major McCampbell.”
He said that last part to the woman who had just emerged from the police car. She was trim, athletic and well-dressed, and felt commanding and self-assured. With a nod and a terse “Sergeant”, she acknowledged Rufus as she walked over to the specter to inspect it.
I became nervous, because the name of my parents’ new boss was Fil McCampbell, and I felt this couldn’t be anyone else.
“Big one,” she commented and glanced back up to Rufus. “How many shots did it take?”
“Just one, ma’am,” I replied.
She turned around and looked at me with surprise, as if she hadn’t thought of me as a participant until that moment.
She turned back to Rufus. “What is going on here, Sergeant?”
Rufus gave me a proud smile. “Tawny the hero today, ma’am. Took out the specter herself.”
Major McCampbell narrowed her eyes and considered me.
“You aren’t one of mine,” she concluded.
I didn’t know what she meant but I thought I should introduce myself. I bobbed my head and replied, “I’m Tawny Amos, ma’am.”
“Ah.” Her face lit with recognition. She nodded. “The Amos girl. That explains it.”
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